Donald Trump is diverter in chief, but Democrats can beat him if they speak next year to many Americans’ anxiety over slipping economically — for nearly four decades, according to Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg.
In Austin on Friday, Buttigieg warned Democrats that impeachment proceedings against Trump may not be an electoral winner but said a steady focus by their nominee on pocketbook issues can be.
Buttigieg, 37, thrilled more than 1,000 of his fans by throwing hard punches at Trump — such as noting how the president avoided military service — while he gently tweaked the two Democratic front-runners during a 70-minute conversation with a friendly MSNBC interviewer at the Texas Tribune Festival.
“The fact that he’s in there,” he said of Trump, “shows just how much has been wrong in this country for pretty much as long as I’ve been alive. The fact that we now live in a country where the gross domestic product is going up and life expectancy going down at the same time tells you that there is something deeply wrong in our whole system.”
Democrats have popular stands on raising the minimum wage, passing “commonsense gun laws,” maintaining abortion rights and overhauling immigration laws, said Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind.
Many working Americans feel their standard of living is eroding, their children’s schools aren’t safe, climate change imperils the earth and Trump’s doing a poor job, he added.
The message he’ll deliver to voters if he’s the Democrats’ nominee: Don’t let Trump distract you.
“Your president wants you to believe the biggest problem in your life, sitting there at your kitchen table, is political correctness or immigrants or the fact that the U.S. doesn’t own Greenland,” Buttigieg said to laughter and applause.
“Or whatever it is that week, right? Basically, the president thinks you’re a sucker. What we’ve got to do is deny him his greatest ability, which is to change the subject. And we can’t allow him to do that. It’s going to take unbelievable discipline on our part.”
When MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle asked Buttigieg why should people vote for him and not former Vice President Joe Biden, he replied, “Electability.”
Though he offered to elaborate, Ruhle cut him off, asking, “Why should they vote for you and not Elizabeth Warren?”
Buttigieg responded, “Because the boldness that is required in order to meet the moment doesn’t have to be my way or the highway. We can be just as bold and do it in a way that brings people together, instead of have it feel so much about the fight that you start to think that fighting is the point.”
Asked for a response, Terrence Clark, the Warren campaign’s spokesman for Texas and Nevada, wrote in an email, “We don’t have any comment.”
Trump has belittled Warren and Biden but mostly has spared Buttigieg, Ruhle noted. She asked Buttigieg, a combat veteran and former Naval Reserve officer, if he’d be able to withstand a withering assault from Trump and the GOP in next year’s general election.
“I’m comfortable dealing with bullies,” he said. “I’m gay and I grew up in Indiana. So I’m not that worried about that.”
Buttigieg said that although he was not a Navy SEAL, “I’ve faced much worse incoming than a tweet full of typos.”